DDVG‘s Chair, Miriam, describes her experiences of visiting and keeping in touch with an asylum seeker who was held in immigration detention, before being released into destitution. He was finally granted leave to remain in the UK as a refugee, and is now a British citizen.
Just one story
He was about the same age as my children when I first met him. Just a boy really. And he’d been locked up in Dover Immigration Removal Centre, and desperately wanted his freedom, as you do, and was very sweet and polite about my weekly visits. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much else to break up his week.
Of course the UK Border Agency didn’t believe him. They thought they saw someone who had a life, family, home, which he should go back to. He clung to the vision he had of making a life, home, family here to fill the gap of what he had lost – family disappeared, two communities at war, and both rejecting him as not one of theirs. Home – where?
I met him in 2004. He was detained, just one of thousands, for nearly a year. After a year of our weekly conversations, he was released just as suddenly as he had been detained.
In London he spent the next several years dependent on the generosity of friends. He met a girl, also seeking asylum. They had two children. To say they had no money is a cliché to most of us. But they had no money because neither was allowed to work. And here was a young couple who desperately wanted to do the right things. So now they had a family, but no home of their own and no security of a life. What if he was sent back? Or she?
What happened to him? I’m happy to say that he and his family are still here. In 2010, after eight years of uncertainty, he called me to say his partner had been given leave to remain the UK. A month later he had the same news for himself.
Within weeks, he had passed his driving test (not allowed to take this before) and had opened his own bank account (likewise). He was training as a forklift driver and working whatever shifts he could get (the ones no-one else would do). He could buy his children little things and send them on school outings.
A year later he was saving out of his earnings for the £1,000 or so it would cost him to become a British citizen. That was a great moment as it meant he was finally safe. British citizenship – something I take for granted. But it was only the first step. They have to save the same amount of money again for his partner, and then for each of the children, even though they were born in the UK.
They have a car. They will soon have their own privately rented flat. They are subletting a room to make it affordable. His partner will soon be embarking on a nursing degree; her ambition ever since she fled her own country.
Freedom, family, home. A life, eventually.